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Challenge: various diet requirements and various locations

My husband and I visit NYC 2-3 times a year and love to sample a wide range of restaurants. For our trip next weekend and another in May, we have a new challenge: I have just decided to stop eating all meat and most dairy (I'll eat dairy if it is humanely raised). I still eat fish, including sushi. My husband is trying to go along with the program but still likes meat occasionally. We will be meeting our daughter for some meals in NY, and she is mostly vegan (but may eat dairy or eggs if humanely raised). Despite my commitment to change, I don't like meat substitutes and don't find many appealing items on strictly vegan menus (other than salads, which I love). We don't want to waste money on food that fits the requirements but doesn't taste great. We all like Indian and Middle Eastern food as well as other ethnic cuisines. Farm-to-table restaurants may also work.
We'll need lunch and dinner in various locations. For this weekend, we will be staying at a hotel in Brooklyn, on 4th Ave. near 25th St. (R line is nearby, and we can transfer to F line) so we could get dinner in Brooklyn if there is a place convenient to those subway lines (I guess I need to post on that board), or we could get dinner in lower Manhattan. On Saturday around lunchtime we will be in Central Park in the Bandshell area (72nd) and/or Fifth Ave. and 105th St., but if there is nothing suitable around there we could go elsewhere. We will be dressed for walking so can't go anywhere fancy, and in any case prefer casual settings that are reasonably priced.
For lower Manhattan, Pala on Allen St. and Westville sound good; I've crossed off some other places that have been suggested on Chowhound because of some poor reviews on Yelp (Blossom, Candle Cafe, Caravan of Dreams, Spring Street Natural, Tiengarden). Beyond Sushi sounds good but may not be conveniently located. For lunch Josie's on Amsterdam at 74th is a possibility (we've eaten there before and been reasonably satisfied), but need another option if we end up at Fifth and 105th at lunchtime. Suggestions?

It would also be great if you could suggest someplace to get tasty chocolate cookies or other desserts that are vegan or are made with humanely raised dairy and eggs. I'm guessing that my old favorites, such as Levain, won't meet the requirements.

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  1. Post on the Outerboroughs board for brooklyn ideas.

      1. re: kathryn

        Thanks, Kathryn, that second link (Erin Zimmer's favorites) has several places that look good--I've added 61 Local, Chuko, Taim, and Maoz to my list. But I still would like suggestions for lunch on Upper East Side near Central Park roughly between 72nd and 105th (that's where we will be this Saturday).

        1. re: patdance

          Taim is wonderful! Most of the menu is vegan :)
          Maoz is decent, but a distant second place to taim

        1. re: Skippy1414

          Thanks, Skippy, Babycakes looks great! My mouth is already watering in anticipation of the brownies and double chocolate chip cookies.

          1. re: patdance

            Babycakes also has several cookbooks, so if you try anything you really like, you can find out how to make it at home!

            Also, there's a highly regarded vegan food truck called the Cinnamon Snail that always has a lot of different sweets. They post where they're going to be on Twitter: @VeganLunchTruck. Might be worth checking to see if they'll be anywhere you'll be.

            1. re: Skippy1414

              Skippy1414, I don't dare make sweet treats at home because I have no self-control and will eat the whole batch in about a day! At least when I go to a bakery I don't buy more than a couple of items at a time--though I suspect I will make more than one visit to Babycakes on this trip.

              I'll see if I can find out where Cinnamon Snail is, but we are not on Twitter so that may be difficult.

              1. re: patdance

                Just to update you, as our plans evolve it looks like we will have dinner Saturday in Brooklyn in Fort Greene--not where we originally expected to be, but our daughter asked us to attend a late-afternoon dance performance at The Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew on Clinton Ave. (on the C/G line) and suggested having dinner after at Walters across from Fort Greene Park. Although there are not a lot of vegan options, my daughter says there are a couple of things she will eat, and I'm still eating fish so there are a lot of options there. We ate at the Walters in Williamsburg a couple of years ago and enjoyed the overall experience as well as the food, so I'm hoping the Fort Greene location will also be good.

                1. re: patdance

                  Huh, somehow I've never noticed Walter's, even though I work right down the street. Go figure, I'm learning new places myself.

                  1. re: patdance

                    This is the wrong board but how about Olea instead of Walter? Olea has a small menu with a fair amount of fish and non-meat small plate dishes (roast chickpeas). I've been to Walter in Williamsburg and remember it as being a somewhat heavy meaty menu.

                    There's another place in <whispers> Brooklyn that serves a lot of salads you might like. I can't remember the name but begins with an A, something like Arilia or Aroola, Areoli, sorry, cannot remember..

                    1. re: mushroomaffairs

                      mushroom affairs, Olea looks like a good alternative and seems to be a fairly short walk from the performance location--I will send the link to my daughter to see what she thinks. However, the menu for Walters in Fort Greene looks more fish heavy than meat heavy, and that's OK with me and my husband. The choice may come down to convenience of location.
                      I tried all of the spellings you gave for the "begins with A" restaurant but can't find anything.

                    2. re: patdance

                      I think Chuko is close to the Church of your performance. It's not my favorite bowl of ramen, but many folks enjoy it.

                      1. re: villainx

                        Thanks, we considered Chuko but don't think we'll want ramen/soup for that meal. Will probably save for a cold-weather trip.

                  2. re: Skippy1414

                    What's good from the Cinnamon Snail? Someone I know was just asking about it.

                    1. re: squid kun

                      The cinnamon roll! The blue corn pancakes at bfast are awesome, thai tempeh sandwich and the burger with korean condiments- the menu changes a lot with daily specials too.

              2. For nicer dinners, you might want to look into Dirt Candy and HanGawi - probably the two most popular vegetarian restaurants among meat eaters. The former does creative, playful dishes (about half of which can be made vegan) and the latter traditional Korean Buddhist cuisine - very different than your typical Korean BBQ fare. I'm an omni bordering on carni, and I love them both. They both book up very quickly, though.

                For a casual lunch, I find Il Verdure, the "vegetable-focused" little mini-restaurant inside Eataly, to be great. It's actually probably my favorite of all the food stands in there. There's always a crowd, but perhaps on account of it being the vegetable place it's also always the least crowded of the Eataly options. I've never had a wait more than ten minutes or so.

                Where you are in Brooklyn is right by my 'hood, so rather than force you to the Outer Boroughs board when one thread will suffice, I'll throw out a few places worth looking into. Your best bet near there is going to be Park Slope. Rosewater and Applewood are both classic New American farm-to-table places, and there will usually be a few vegetarian apps and at least one entree available. Al Di La is a popular cozy Italian place, and Italian tends to be a good option for mixed diners - there are always going to be vegetarian pasta options as mains. All of them source responsibly from humane farms. For something a bit further outside the usual box, there's Java Indonesian Rijsttafel, which has a wide selection of both meat and veg fare, much of which is by nature vegan because they don't use much dairy to begin with. All are within a short walk of your subway options.

                I'll also +1 Babycakes. I tend to hate vegan baked goods, but theirs are pretty solid.

                8 Replies
                1. re: sgordon

                  sgordon and Spiritchaser, thank you for these additional suggestions and especially for the Brooklyn options. I've seen some great reviews of Hangawi and Kajitsu, although Kajitsu has some recent negative reviews (complaining about mediocre food) on Yelp.
                  We were in Eataly on our last visit and were put off by the crowds and overpriced merchandise, but I'll take a look at the Il Verdure menu.
                  sgordon, thanks also for the reminder that Italian may be a good option. My husband and I both love Italian.

                    1. re: Spiritchaser

                      Well...I know Yelp is not reliable and I take reviews there with a grain of salt, but if you look at them as a whole and discard the extreme positive and negative reviews (and the illiterate ones) you can usually get a feel for whether it's the type of place that will appeal.

                      1. re: patdance

                        Yelp is much more reliable in some places. It is very unreliable in New York. At least check and see how the "elites" rate places, but in my neighborhood, the East Village, Yelp is absolutely unreliable, both in terms of high and low ratings, and useful only for names and addresses.

                        1. re: Pan

                          That's good to know, Pan. I try to use a variety of sources when looking for restaurants away from home. In NYC I also look at the Menu Pages site (www.menupages.com)--do you think the ratings/reviews there are reliable?

                          1. re: patdance

                            Nope, not at all. I use that only for addresses, phone numbers, and when they're not available elsewhere, menus (which are sometimes out of date).

                    2. re: patdance

                      Yeah, Italian or Indian tend to be my go-to cuisines for mixed diet crowds, as there's usually better options. For fancier Italian, Scarpetta had a full vegetarian menu in addition to the regular one, so you're not only stuck with pastas as main course options. A few items can be made vegan as well, if I recall correctly.

                      For Indian, maybe check out the menus at Tulsi (Chef Mathur is a vegetarian himself, which is kind of funny since he's famous for his lamb chops), Devi, and Junoon.

                      1. re: sgordon

                        I like what I see on the Tulsi website. Maybe we can go there for a special dinner on Mother's Day weekend.
                        Thanks, sgordon! I really appreciate all of the help from you and others on this board--now I am looking forward to trying new places in NYC instead of worrying that I won't be able to find anything really satisfying.

                  1. In addition to sgordon's suggestions of Dirt Candy and Hangawi (both EXCELLENT choices - my GF is a vegetarian) I would add Kajitsu, it is Shojin cuisine (Japanese vegetarian) and it is fantastic.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Spiritchaser

                      I keep forgetting about Kajitsu since they moved, but yeah, +1 on that.

                    2. Another recommendation for Dirt Candy (and there will be no fake meat involved).

                      For lunch in Central Park, it's nothing particularly exciting, but there is now a Le Paid Quotdien in Central Park (just north of Sheeps Meadow), and they usually have plenty of vegan options. Further north, when I was there last weekend, it looked like they were opening a casual Maoz falafel concession in the park just off 106 and 5th, which should meet the vegan requirements with ease.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: downtownchica

                        The Maoz website says the one in the park is closed for the season (as of today--doesn't say when it will open), so that's not an option for this weekend. I'm not usually thrilled with Le Pain Quotidien so that will be a fallback if nothing else. But I just found out about GOBO on UES, and it sounds great. Have any of you been there or to the other location in the West Village?
                        Dirt Candy's menu seems limited (though inventive), and I don't see anything that excites me.

                        1. re: patdance

                          I think I went to the Village location of Gobo years ago and found it nothing exciting.

                          I missed the dates in your original email. All the posting about Dirt Candy is moot because it will be impossible for you to get a table with such short notice.

                          If Maoz is closed, there's a Moustache location a short walk from the Park. I've never been to that location, but the food in the Village is good, and middle eastern is usually among the easier options for vegans in my experience.

                          1. re: downtownchica

                            Moustache looks about perfect for Saturday lunch! It's in the right location, good menu, and mostly very good reviews on Yelp. So I think we have a winner for at least one meal.

                            For dinner in lower Manhattan, what do you think of Westville (any of the locations)? Although I'd like to try Pala on Allen St., it sounds like reservations can be hard to come by.

                            1. re: patdance

                              Westville is good, but it's all food one with minimal skills could easily make at home - nothing will blow your mind, but it is affordable.

                          2. re: patdance

                            Gobo is not great.... In the ues area candle cafe is the best choice, i've been many times and have always loved it. Their salads are creative and satisfying (the aztec salad is my favorite), lots of entrees without fake meat (anything with tempeh is great).

                        2. There's a Saravanaa in UWS, not far from Josie. I usually go to the one downtown, and that's my go to for Indian (Dosa and thali, not really curry).

                          Downtown is Babycakes, vegan/gluten free desserts (cookies, donuts, cupcakes, etc), and good. (edit: oops, someone mentioned babycakes already, so +1 on that.)

                          1. Westville (all locations) has a great veg and non veg variety, very casual and not too expensive.

                            Malai marke (indian) is in the e village and has a great selection of both vegan and omni choices so everyone is happy:
                            I've enjoyed several of the items from the vegan menu and my friends all loved their spicey kebobs and lamb

                            Lula's sweet apothecary in the e village is vegan ice cream- made from soy, or cashew milk, or coconut milk. Note that they open at 3pm.

                            +1 for babycakes

                            Also note that the many locations of organic avenue as well as juice press have premade vegan salads, wraps, etc that would work to take and go for a picnic or wherever, most locations have minimal seating if at all.

                            Note scarpetta would be hard, they have a vegetarian menu but pastas are made in house- aka with eggs- and there is a lot of cheese used on the vegetarian dishes as well.

                            If you are looking for lunch on uws there is a candle cafe on the uws as well as peacefood cafe.

                            In brooklyn see if you can get to Dunwell doughnuts and champs bakery- both vegan and really impressive.

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: Ttrockwood

                              Ttrockwood, thanks for the feedback on Gobo and Westville and for the additional recommendations. Malai Marke and Candle Cafe look especially good, but we'll probably save for the next trip. I'm finalizing our itinerary now and it's pretty certain that we will want to eat lunch Saturday on UES near 105th, so I think Moustache is the best option near there. Still trying to decide about Friday and Saturday dinners, but you've all given me some great options--luckily we are coming back for 4 days in May.
                              The more votes I'm seeing for Babycakes, the hungrier I'm getting. I haven't had a good dessert since beginning this diet change a couple of weeks ago, and I am really craving a chocolate cookie, cupcake, and/or brownie! I may also try Lula's ice cream, though I find it hard to believe vegan ice cream could taste as good as the real thing.
                              Thanks also to villainx for the Saravanaa suggestion.

                              1. re: Ttrockwood

                                Oh, Lula's still around? That's good.

                                Oh, soba is also a good option for downtown (Cocoron and Sobakoh).

                                For some reason, I was trying to find good ramen near the places you mentioned and forgot about soba.

                                1. re: villainx

                                  Lula's is back to life after the owners' divorce and bickering- aka random closings of the shop! I always call before going anyhow, says they open at 3pm but sometimes more like 3:30 or so. I've taken many friends who declare they prefer it to any dairy ice cream- and i do since dairy hates me.

                                  1. re: Ttrockwood

                                    Dairy hates me, too, but I loved ice cream so much that I kept eating it despite the unpleasantness. Now that I have given it up for ethical reasons, it would be nice to find a substitute that was both tasty and nice to my digestion. Sounds like Lula's is worth a try. Thanks!

                                    1. re: patdance

                                      Also note that grom has several dairy free selections including an astonishing dark chocolate sorbet, locations in the w village, columbus circle and uws

                                      1. re: Ttrockwood

                                        Now that we're back home from NY, just wanted to thank everyone for the suggestions. I did get to Babycakes and loved the chocolate chip cookie sammie filled with mint cream--that goes to the top of my must-have treats for future NY trips. Also liked the double chocolate chip cookie and the brownie with mocha cream (it's not as piggish as it sounds--I shared with my husband and daughter), though the brownie was not as great as the sammie.

                                        We arrived later than expected Friday night and didn't feel like going into Manhattan (we were staying at the Best Western at 4th and 25th in Brooklyn), so we took the R a couple of stops to 9th and walked a few blocks to see what we could find. Ended up at Coco Roco on 5th Ave. in Park Slope, which doesn't sound like a veg-friendly place (they seem to be mainly known for Peruvian chicken), but it looked like an inviting place and we saw a couple of vegetarian dishes and several fish dishes on the menu. (Our daughter wasn't with us so we didn't need vegan dishes.) It seemed to be a popular neighborhood place, and we were mostly happy with our food: ceviche, whole red snapper with avocado and yucca, maduros, and some delicious plantain chips with addictive dipping sauce (I suspect there was some mayo in it but decided not to worry about it even though I am trying to avoid dairy). The only disappointing dish was camarones al ajillo, which had very small shrimp and not much flavor--I get a much better version at our local Peruvian restaurant in a DC suburb.

                                        Lunch Saturday was (as planned) at Moustache on Lexington Ave. in East Harlem. My husband, daughter, and I shared a green pitza (with leeks and scallions, no cheese), tabbouleh with whole wheat pita, falafel plate, and fresh lemonade. It was all very fresh and tasty, and that is now on my list of favorites (though may try another location next time).

                                        Saturday dinner we went to Walter's in Fort Greene (my daughter's suggestion, even though it is not primarily vegan or vegetarian). It was a semi-long walk from the performance venue, but it was worth it. We got there on the early side and only had to wait about 10 minutes for a table, but it would have been a much longer wait if we had come a little later--it was quite crowded with people standing/waiting when we left. My husband and I went with fish again--I got one of the specials, soft-shell crab prepared Vietnamese style (vegetables and seasoning similar to banh mi), which was unusual and tasty. We shared a plate of oysters, which were very fresh and clean tasting (of course, all oysters should be that way, but we've often been disappointed). He also had the endive salad (with blue cheese). Our daughter had the winter vegetables main, which was quite tasty. We also had some delicious non-alcoholic drinks: cucumber mint lemonade and ginger beer. It was a fun place and we'd go back there if in the area.

                                        Our next trip to NY is in 2 weeks and we will be based in lower Manhattan (seaport area--Peck Slip near the Brooklyn Bridge) and attending a performance in the Wall St. area. I may also be organizing a large family lunch or dinner in another part of Manhattan (location to be determined). So I may do a new post next week with more questions. Thanks again!